It's a living legal community making laws accessible and interactive. Click Here to get Started »
Power of Attorney
A written document in which one person (the principal) appoints another person to act as an agent on his or her behalf, thus conferring authority on the agent to perform certain acts or functions on behalf of the principal.
Powers of attorney are routinely granted to allow the agent to take care of a variety of transactions for the principal, such as executing a stock power, handling a tax audit, or maintaining a safe-deposit box. Powers of attorney can be written to be either general (full) or limited to special circumstances. A power of attorney generally is terminated when the principal dies or becomes incompetent, but the principal can revoke the power of attorney at any time.
A special type of power of attorney that is used frequently is the "durable" power of attorney. A durable power of attorney differs from a traditional power of attorney in that it continues the agency relationship beyond the incapacity of the principal. The two types of durable power of attorney are immediate and "springing." The first type takes effect as soon as the durable power of attorney is executed. The second is intended to "spring" into effect when a specific event occurs, such as the disability of the principal. Most often, durable powers of attorney are created to deal with decisions involving either property management or health care.
Durable powers of attorney have become popular because they enable the principal to have her or his affairs handled easily and inexpensively after she or he has become incapacitated. Before the durable power of attorney was created, the only way to handle the affairs of an incapacitated person was to appoint a guardian, a process that frequently involves complex and costly court proceedings, as well as the often humiliating determination that the principal is wholly incapable and in need of protection.
With a durable power of attorney, on the other hand, a principal can appoint someone to handle her or his affairs after she or he becomes incompetent, and the document can be crafted to confer either general power or power in certain limited circumstances. Because no judicial proceedings are necessary, the principal saves time and money and avoids the stigma of being declared incompetent.
The concept of the durable power of attorney was created in 1969 when the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws promulgated the Uniform Probate Code (U.P.C. § 5–501). Ten years later, the provisions of the code dealing with the durable power of attorney were modified and published as the Uniform Durable Power of Attorney Act (UDPA). All fifty states recognize some version of the durable power of attorney, having adopted either the UDPA or the Uniform Probate Code, or some variation of them. Versions of the durable power of attorney vary from state to state. Certain powers cannot be delegated, including the powers to make, amend, or revoke a will, change insurance beneficiaries, contract a marriage, and vote.
Insel, Michael S. 1995. "Durable Power Can Alleviate Effects of Client's Incapacity." Estate Planning 22 (February).
Rains, Ramona C. 1996. "Planning Tools Available to the Elderly Client." American Journal of Trial Advocacy 19 (spring).